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Beacons - Are they being over-hyped?

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If you work in the mobile or retail industry you can't have escaped much of the hype that is surrounding beacons at the moment. These little bundles of power are going to revolutionise the high street, dragging it into the 21st century and saving the community and lives of all those connected with local commerce. It's a wonderful thing!

There are however, many challenges and obstacles that need to be addresses, or at least acknowledged, if beacons are to be successful.

Additionally, Beacons need to be seen as part of the mix of consumer mobile engagement, rather than the only means of engagement. I wrote about this in another blog post when talking about push and pull semantics.

Now, as an optimist (you have to be when you start your own business), I can see the value and opportunity around beacons for all concerned. Wooshping has even integrated Beacon support into the Wooshping INSTANT platform to allow our customers to utilise this new capability in their campaigns, in the same way they can choose to use NFC and QR codes - offering choice for their customer. However, during the course of that work we have identified a number of challenges which we feel need to be acknowledged or addressed as this capability matures.


Consumer Challenges


1) I need HOW MANY apps?

By definition a beacon has to cooperate with an app. On any given high street there can be anything up to 200 different brands and retailers. From a customer perspective, that potentially 200 apps that you need to download and organise to your phone, if you wish to take advantage of the offers and information being presented to customers. Granted, you won't want to shop in every store, but you take my point. That a LOT of apps...


2) Oh, and I need to remember to start them?

So you've downloaded the 50 apps that are relevant to you, and now all you need to do is remember to start each different one, every time you go into a store. Really? Oh wow. I might not be bothered. Especially if I am time constrained. 

Seriously though, in an offer-fatigued market, the incentives are going to have to be pretty strong to get people over this hurdle.


3) Yes I am interested in THIS, but what made you think I would be interested in THAT? 

Context. It is king and underlines everything that is important about getting it right. So I have downloaded the app, and I have remembered to start the app and given you permission to alert me to your offers. Great. But now as I wander around your department store, I am getting offers about things I am interested in (tech and bikes), but I am also getting offers on stuff I really am not interested in (lingerie, nappies etc.).

The challenge here for beacons is to how best ensure that you don't end up spamming and turning your consumers off. This comes down to profiling, but this can take 2 forms. 1) Where the consumer tells the app what they are interested in receiving (and can they really be bothered to do that?) or 2) the self-learning app which runs the risk of being turned off whilst it gathers data and learns.

Bluetooth marketing dies because it was spam. There's a danger that beacons could fall into that category.


Brand / Retailer challenges

1) I need to spend more on an app? OR I need to build an app?

This point could be a great divider. It could further divide the high street between those who can afford to build app and market them (chains) and those who can't (independents). In addition, given the amount of money and resource that has already been invested in apps, the business case to further upgrade you cross-platform apps is going to have to be pretty water-tight and justifiable. This won;t happen without case studies. So we could end up in a chicken and egg scenario.


2) How much are Beacons?

Beacons cost in the vicinity of $30 a piece. This is for a device that has a battery life of 2 years. So on the face of it, it's not too bad. But wait, if the point of beacons is to offer proximity offers based on your position in store, you are going to want to implement far more than 1 beacon. So even in a small unit, it may be that you have 5 or 6 beacons covering different areas of the store. For chains or department stores where the numbers are multiplied by hundreds, it goes from being an incidental investment in hardware, to being quite significant, and very much needs to be backed by a business case.

You then need to remember to keep checking the battery life of the beacons and have stick ready to replace them when the time comes.


3) Leave those Beacons alone!

Beacons are proximity sensors. Therefore they can be scanned and located using a simple app on a device. This adds an extra level of complexity for retailers who are going to need to secure or hide the beacons to stop tech junkies inviting themselves to remove them from your stores. 


I have picked up on 3 challenges for the consumers and the brands / retailers and there are undoubtedly more.We have experienced some technical challenges with beacons where the proximity capability isn't quite up to scratch yet and this undermines the essence of the promise of the Beacons. Of course this is just a technical hurdle and they will become more accurate with firmware updates etc.

I have also assumed that retailers are willing to make offers available for users via this mechanic and this is not a given. As I stated before, we are living in an offer-fatigued world where retailers are not quite so open to creating more offers simply to support the new capability. Additionally, many retailers might feel that they are simply cannibilising their existing customer revenue streams through this mechanic and will choose not to get involved. This will be interesting to monitor.

Beacons are also the feast for the later smartphone users. People who have bought devices that have BTLE hardware and software support.This rules out the iPhone 4, Android devices running 4.2 or less, all Windows devices (for the time being until Microsoft release SDK's and a firmware update for some devices). This in itself might not seem like a huge problem, but when you have people on 2 year contracts with another year to run before they can upgrade, you sense that this is still very much an emerging capability, with plenty of lessons to learn and understand.

Additionally, don't look at beacons in isolation. Offering consumer both push and pull opportunities to engage will ensure that you attract the largest number of customers are getting involved, and allow you to learn more about their behaviours and approach to shopping or engaging with you.

So our recommendation is this. If you want to learn about BTLE and understand it's capabilities and opportunities, don't launch a retail experience today and upset your customers. We believe a great example experience could be event based, where you have a complementary app to support an event, and beacons are used to trigger experiences at the event. This can mitigate many of the challenges identified above, and provide a solid case study for how beacons are received and insights into consumer response to this new capability.



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  • Guest
    Sam Taha Wednesday, 18 June 2014

    OfferDrop for SMB

    Valid point about cost of building your own "experience" app for proximity beacons. We have addressed this issue with OfferDrop. It is geared to small and medium sized businesses that want their own in-store experience app but don't want to pay the big bucks for build and maintaining their own app. OfferDrop allows merchants have their own branded app while managing in-store and out of store engagement with customers.

  • Guest
    James Haggas Wednesday, 05 February 2014


    Hi take the comment but you need to see the Desire Platform - its very advance and solve a lot of the previous comments - its fantastic and has taken over 2 years

  • Wooshping
    Wooshping Thursday, 06 February 2014


    Thanks James. Looks like an interesting solutionand thank s for your plug. It will be interesting to see if brands and retailers go for this kind of offering non-branded solution or wish to try and incorporate this into their own branded experiences.
    Note to other readers : For the purposes of transparency, James Haggas (comment above) is Co-Founder & Director of Just Desire.

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